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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Make] Projects 

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build, hack, tweak, share, discover,- 

Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Written By: Louis Brill 


Alligator clips (2) 

Heat gun (1) 

Lightwire stripper (1) 

Needlenose pliers (1) 

Palm drill (1) 

Scissors (1) 

Soldering iron (1) 

Third-hand tool (1) 
aka helping hand 

Wire cutter/stripper (1) 

X-Acto knifed) 


Lightwire (1) 

Standard driver (1) 
for lightwire; $8 

Sequencer (1) 
for lightwire; $75 

Heat-shrink tubing (1) 

Foamcore board (1) 

Copper tape (1) 

available at stained glass supply stores 

Steel wire (1) 

Network cable (1) 

Snap connector leads (5) 
lightwire side. $1 each. 

Zip tied) 

Duct taped) 

Battery holder (8) 

Battery (8) 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Battery snap connector (1) 

Colored pencils (1) 

Paper (1) 

or masking tape: for labeling wires 


Here's a project that illustrates the steps and considerations for using lightwire to create a 
successful animated image: in this case, a large, blinking eye. 

To get well-versed on EL wire, read the wiki page . 

Step 1 — Sketch your idea 



Outer iris 
Inner iris 

Lower eyelash 

Upper eye fold 
Upper eyelid 

Lower eyelid 
Lower eye fold 

• First, sketch out the object you 
want to animate. We've seen 
running horses, jumping 
kangaroos, flying saucers, and 
leaping dolphins. The best designs 
can be understood from just a few 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 2 — Make a full-sized drawing 

• Once you've refined your idea, 
draw it at full size on one or more 
sheets of paper. You need to figure 
out which elements are always on 
— the common frame — and which 
will be animation frames. 

• In our case, the common frame 
included the eyebrow, the folds 
above and below the eye, and the 
eye's bottom edge and eyelashes. 
The animation consisted of 4 
frames that showed the eyelid and 
lashes, iris, and pupil in various 
stages of open- and closed-ness. 
To distinguish the various parts 
and make the animation easier to 
view, we decided to use yellow for 
the eyebrow and folds, green for 
the lashes, pink for the eyelid, and 
blue for the iris and pupil. 

© Make Projects 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 3 — Transfer the drawing to the mounting medium. 


• We made a full-sized master 
drawing of the fully opened eye (the 
common frame plus frame 1) and 
then 3 more drawings for frames 2- 
4. To make the movement of the 
upper lashes appear smoother, we 
drew them on a separate piece of 
tracing paper and simply translated 
them downward for frames 2-4 
without foreshortening the lashes' 
length. This allows successive lash 
segments to overlap from frame to 
frame, which helps the viewer 
follow them and see them as the 
same thing. The animated 
movement reads better this way, 
even though real lashes don't stay 

• You can attach lightwire to almost 
anything. We mounted our eye to a 
sheet of foamcore board. To 
transfer the drawings, we taped 
them onto the board, then followed 
along each line with a stylus, 
making an indentation by pushing 
down into the board. 

• Then we filled in the indented lines 
with different colored pencils for 
each frame. 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 4 — Measure and cut the lightwire. 

• For each eye image segment, hold 
the corresponding color of lightwire 
along its line to measure out the 
proper length, then cut it to size, 
adding about 6" of extra length. 
Label each segment with tape to 
identify it, for example, 
"eyelash/frame 1 ." Group the cut 
segments together by frame: 
common or ^-4. 

• For elements like the eyelashes, 
which are laced in and out of the 
board, follow the wire's path back 
and forth with a piece of string, 
holding it along the way with bits of 
masking tape. Then measure the 
lightwire against the string and cut 
it to length plus 6". 

• Lightwire can't be folded or 
bent too tightly. For corners, 
use separate segments or thread a 
single segment out the back, loop 
it, and bring it back to the front at a 
new angle through an adjacent 
hole. To black out short sections, 
cover the wire with tape or heat- 

© Make Projects 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 5 — Attach the leads - Outer vinyl sheath(s) 




Strip wire 

^^- Apply copper tape 


Solder wrap wires to copper tape 


-Remove phosphor 

Solder short lead to 
center wire and long 
lead to copper tape 

• Before mounting, each segment needs to be connected to its 2 lead wires. Our leads came 
from cutting open a network cable, which contains matched pairs of wires in 4 colors. This 
is helpful for color-coding our 4 animation frames. (Five colors would be even better, to 
include the common frame.) Here's how to connect each segment to its leads: 

• Strip off about %" of the lightwire's outer vinyl sheath(s) at one end. 

• Attach the leads - Tease, bend and solder wires 

• Tease away the tiny wrap wires, then stick a cuff of copper tape around the sheath, right 
behind where you began stripping. 

• Bend the wrap wires back over the copper tape and solder them to the copper tape. 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 6 — Attach the leads - Core conductor wire 

• Scrape off the phosphor layer to completely expose about 3/8" of the tip of the core 
conductor wire. 

• Cut and strip 2 leads about 12" long. Solder one to the bare core conductor and the other 
to the copper tape. Use the proper color leads to designate the frame (but stripe vs. solid 
can go either way). 

• Test the segment by connecting it to a working driver. If it lights up, cover the joint with a 
piece of heat-shrink tubing. 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 7 — Mount the segments, frame by frame. 

• Starting with the common frame, attach all the segments for each frame to the front of the 
board, following the drawing and running the leads out the back. To minimize the spaghetti 
in back, pick one side of the board to carry the leads, and drill pilot holes on that side 
where each segment starts. 

• To hold the segments down and guide them around curves, we made "staples" out of 28- 
gauge steel wire. Drill pilot holes where you want the staples to sit, run each end of the 
staple through the holes, then fit the staple snugly around the lightwire and fold its ends flat 
on the backside using needlenose pliers. 

• The blinking eyelid covers different amounts of the blue iris and pupil, so frames A-C all 
include iris and pupil segments, even though these elements don't move. Where the 
frames' segments represent the same lines in the original drawing, we mounted them side 
by side so they wouldn't block each other. 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 8 — Bundle the leads. 

• After mounting all the segments for 
each frame, bundle the leads 
together in back and label them for 
final connection later. 

Step 9 — Connect the frames to the driver and sequencer. 

• Test each lightwire strand again by alligator-clipping its leads to a driver. Although we 
tested them before, the soldered connections can break when the strands are mounted, 
and it's easier to identify and repair individual elements before they're connected together. 

• The 10-channel sequencer can switch from frame 1 to frame 4, but it doesn't include an 
always-on output, so we connect the common frame leads to a different box, a cube driver. 

• For the wires in each frame, bundle all of their leads together and separate the solid and 
striped wire pairs. Twist the solid leads and the striped leads together into 2 pigtail 
connections for each frame, then solder the 2 masses to a snap connector. You should 
wind up with 5 snap connector plugs, each of which connects in parallel across all the 
segments in a single frame and plugs into the sequencer or cube driver. 

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Annie's Blinking El Wire Eye 

Step 10 — Final assembly. 

• The sequencer and driver both run 
off the same 12V battery brick. 
Each has a battery snap that plugs 
into the brick's 9V-style terminals, 
so you need to solder an additional 
9V battery snap to connect it to 
both boxes. Then mount the brick, 
sequencer, and driver together on 
the back of the board near the lead 
bundles. We just stuck them on 
with cardboard, metal fasteners, 
and zip ties, and then neatened up 
the wires in back with more zip 

• Finally, plug the frame 1 connector 
into the sequencer's channel 1 
port, frame 2 to channel 2, 3 to 3, 
and 4 to 4. Plug the common frame 
connector into the cube driver. 
Choose the sequencer pattern that 
makes sense for the project; in this 
case, "1-2-3-4-3-2-1" gives the 
illusion of the eye opening and 
closing. You're done! 

This project first appeared in MAKE Volume 21 , page 142. 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 1 -03 02:36:40 AM. 

© Make Projects 

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